Theresa May dines with Chief Rabbi on eve of becoming UK Prime Minister (& her speech on Israel)

July 13, 2016

Then Home Secretary Theresa May (center) at a dinner last year to raise money to pay for more security guards at Jewish schools and synagogues in Britain.



[Note by Tom Gross]

British politics has been moving at breakneck speed since the vote to leave the EU was held less than three weeks ago. For an American viewpoint on developments I attach an article below from the New Yorker.

Today, Theresa May, who even 48 hours ago almost no one could have imagined would have become prime minister so quickly, assumes office.

Several readers to these dispatches have asked me about her views on Israel. She has visited Israel once, seems to be understanding and appreciative of Israel (see the video link below), and is undoubtedly more friendly than British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.

As Home Secretary (interior minister) for the past six years Theresa May has also taken very seriously the rise in anti-Semitism in Britain. (Only this morning a leading Labour politician Margaret Hodge -- who is of Jewish origin -- revealed she has referred two further anti-Semitic threats against her to the police, and said people around the Labour leadership were “indulging” anti-Semitic abuse among their supporters.)

After the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket massacres in Paris last year, while other politicians donned “Je Suis Charlie” labels in solidarity with murdered journalists, prime minister-designate Theresa May also donned a “Je Suis Juif” sign in solidarity with the murdered and injured Jews.

And yesterday evening, on the eve of becoming prime minister, May (who is an Anglican vicar’s daughter) and her husband Philip kept a longstanding dinner date at the north London home of British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. (This was not an official function but a private dinner, at which other guests were also present.)

The fact that Mrs. May broke off from choosing her cabinet to attend the dinner is being seen as an extraordinary gesture to the Jewish community at a time of rising anti-Semitism, according to the Jewish Chronicle.



Below is a video of the speech last year when, as British Home Secretary, Theresa May spoke at Bnei Akiva’s Yom Ha’aztmaut (Israeli Independence day) event at Finchley United Synagogue in north London.

She spoke about Israel’s technological and other successes, as well as the “indiscriminate terrorist attacks and existential threats Israel faces. And she said that “the safety of the Jewish people can never be taken for granted neither in Israel nor in Europe”.

In her speech, she also addresses various anti-Semitic attacks in Britain and elsewhere. (She has, of course, also spoken At Christian, Muslim and Hindu events.)


Additional Note:

Fresh from giving his highly amusing speech to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (it is worth watching here if you haven’t seen it, here), the Ugandan president is the subject of new controversy and bewilderment after he stopped his motorcade to make a mysterious roadside phone call.


The rise of Theresa May and the decline of British politics
By Amy Davidson
The New Yorker
July 11, 2016

The story of how Theresa May, the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary, became the presumptive Prime Minister is one of tragi-farcical, politico-comic self-destruction. It has played out with slapstick speed since the morning after the nation voted to leave the European Union, two and a half weeks ago, and the Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, who had campaigned against Brexit, said that he would resign rather than preside over it. At the time, Cameron figured that he’d stick around until November, and there was an assumption in many quarters that he’d be succeeded by Boris Johnson, an M.P. and the former mayor of London, who likes to preen about how disorderly he is. But on Monday, standing in front of 10 Downing Street, Cameron said that Britain would “have a new Prime Minister in that building behind me by Wednesday evening,” and that it would be May, who had his support. She might have been on the job even sooner than that, except that, this being Britain, taking power still involves a visit to the palace, and the Queen is out of town.

Brexit has not brought out the best in British political culture, and one can say that even as an American in the age of Donald Trump. The largest issues have been the careless smashing of alliances, the lies to and the scorn for voters (by both sides, if more by Leave) that enabled the Brexit victory, and the realization by non-British E.U. citizens that many of their neighbors view them as contemptible foreigners. But it’s worth noting that the whole shakeup has been conducted with a striking lack of dignity. Some of the most absurd claims have been pronounced in what Sarah Vine, the wife of the Justice Minister, Michael Gove, referred to in a parody-defying Daily Mail column as “erudite vowel sounds.” (Such sounds were how she could tell that the reporters gathered outside her window, as the sun rose on the Brexit vote tally, “weren’t the usual nocturnal neighbourhood ne’er-do-wells.” ) Gove, who was Johnson’s sidekick in the Leave campaign, turned on him, which meant that they both went down fast in the Tory leadership race, with much talk in the tabloids about knives in backs and fronts. The final self-inflicted blow, by May’s last-standing rival, the Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom, was what might be called Mumgate. It started when the Times of London ran an interview with Leadsom on Friday with the headline


Tory minister says she will be better leader because childless home secretary lacks ‘stake in future’”

It went on to quote Leadsom, who often included the phrase “as a mum” in her pro-Leave statements, as saying that May “possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next.” This, she said, set her apart from May as a potential leader. She added, “I am sure Theresa will be really sad she doesn’t have children, so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t,’ because I think that would be really horrible.” But, she went on, “genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.” In other words, Andrea has children; Theresa hasn’t.

As a matter of logic, this disparagement of childless leaders is ludicrous. There are good and bad leaders with and without children, and one can just as glibly argue that the focus on one’s own children’s fortunes can be distracting for a politician. Among the more incoherent elements in Leadsom’s remarks to the Times was that May might think about the long-term state of the economy, while she herself would be properly focussed on her children’s more immediate job prospects. It is all the more strange for a spokesperson for Leave, a campaign built around the irrational power of patriotism, to assume that abstract love of country would not be motive enough. And, as a matter of politics, Leadsom’s comments were a wreck. She insulted the childless, and she seemed personally cruel to May, who has quietly said in the past that she is, indeed, sad about having never had children. (May, who is fifty-nine, has been married to her husband, a banker she met when they were both students at Oxford, for thirty-five years.)

A Conservative M.P., Sir Alan Duncan, called the remarks “vile,” tweeting, “I’m gay and in a civil partnership. No children, but ten nieces and nephews. Do I not have a stake in the future of the country?” Leadsom, as it happens, is also opposed to same-sex marriage. She might be understood, in American terms, as a cross between Carly Fiorina and Michele Bachmann, except with less experience than either. She responded to the Mumgate criticism by attacking the Times, tweeting that the story was “truly appalling and the exact opposite of what I said. I am disgusted.” Leadsom demanded that the paper release the transcript, which it did, along with the audio, and which not only confirmed the story but made Leadsom look worse. When the Times asked, “What is the main difference between you and Theresa May?,” her children and her “huge” family were practically the first things that Leadsom mentioned, after a passing reference to her knowledge of the economy and her “optimism.” She may have wanted to keep any discussion of her business career brief. Her years in the City, London’s financial district, had been one of her main political selling points, until it emerged that her résumé was exaggerated. Her claims that she had helped steer Barclays through the financial crisis were, according to executives who spoke to the Financial Times, based on a “somewhat fanciful” view of her position there. She hadn’t been headhunted to work at a hedge fund as a managing director; she had been a marketing director, and had been hired by her brother-in-law, who ran the fund.

And yet, after a series of votes by Tory M.P.s, Leadsom was the last remaining challenger to May for the Party leadership. How did what is still one of the world’s major powers end up in this state? Part of the blame goes to the tolerance of Johnson and his “shambolic” style of politics, for which he always seemed to want to be patted on the head and which finally, and too late, became too much for everybody. Johnson lost Gove’s support when, instead of sitting down after the referendum and making a plan for the next stage, he threw what the tabloids called a “boozy barbecue” during a weekend of partying that also involved cricket and the Ninth Earl Spencer. (That’s Princess Diana’s brother, whose third wife is planning a renovation of their castle.) Johnson, and an extraordinary number of other Tories, seem to have devoted their energies to pounding out duelling columns for the Daily Telegraph rather than to something like a real blueprint for Leave. Johnson also alienated Leadsom by first promising her a spot in his putative government and to give her that commitment in writing, and then claiming accidentally to have left that particular piece of paper on his desk, bumbling-Boris style. She wasn’t charmed. Why was anybody, ever? At the same time, the personality questions distract from a larger problem that the Brexit results exposed: the distance between party leaders and voters.

All this has meant that the Tory leadership fight has hardly touched on issues like May’s views on surveillance and the treatment of terror suspects, which have caused concern for civil libertarians. May had supported Remain in the Brexit referendum, in what has come to be seen as fundamentally an act of loyalty to Cameron; her own views on that, too, have been underexamined. “Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it,” she said on Monday. Meanwhile, the Labour Party is in the middle of its own leadership fight between Jeremy Corbyn, who has lost the support of the great majority of his party’s M.P.s, and Angela Eagle, who had been the shadow cabinet’s business secretary, before she and most of the other shadow ministers resigned en masse. There is something intriguing about women potentially taking charge of both parties, at a moment when so many men have knocked things down and then fled. (Nigel Farage, the head of the U.K. Independence Party, has also wandered off, saying something about wanting his “life back.”) Perhaps May can make the country seem a little less leaderless. Now Britain just needs to figure out where it’s headed. As he walked back into Number 10, Cameron, apparently not realizing his microphone was still on, was caught singing a little humming ditty. It went something like this: “Too-too, doh-doh, right.”


Among previous dispatches on Brexit:

* “After Brexit, Britain suddenly becomes European”

* Harvard Professor: Britain’s “lunatic referendum formula isn’t democracy”

* Welcome to Outstria, Beljump, Retireland, Quitaly, Portugo...

-- Tom Gross


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